My Darling Clementine with Steve Nieve. Country Darkness Vol. 1. Fretstore Records

mdc_country-darkness_cover_m-350x350The UK’s foremost country duo, My Darling Clementine, have been delivering their singular take on the popular male/female country duet since 2011. Over the years and with four albums under their belt, the duo, married couple Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King, have moved far beyond the affectionate tributes of their first release, How Do You Plead. Their last release, Still Testifying, while maintaining their hard-core love of classic country, had shades of soul and sixties pop in its grooves with the pair’s song writing  having more gravitas, more light and shade to it than when they started out.

Their latest project, as hinted at by the title, might be delving into darker corners of the country psyche but, more surprisingly, it also delves into the psyche of Elvis Costello as My Darling Clementine have taken to leafing through the great man’s songbook in order to record their choice picks. It’s an ongoing project and this four song EP is only the first fruit, but for anyone who, hearing of this, expected to hear a simulation of Costello’s most overtly country album, Almost Blue, prepare to be surprised. This is deep cut territory.

Joining My Darling Clementine on this voyage of Elvis discovery is none other than Steve Nieve, perhaps Costello’s longest serving accomplice. An Attraction and an Imposter, Nieve deservedly gets his name on the sleeve, his playing here a neat link to the originals aside from it being impeccable.

The EP opens with Heart Shaped Bruise, originally on Costello’s The Delivery Man with Emmylou Harris adding her vocals. My Darling Clementine and Nieve strip the original of its bar room country blush to expose its nerves. Nieve’s magnificent piano leads into strings, muted drum rolls and  dramatic vocals which take the song in the direction of mid sixties pop melodrama, The Walker Brothers, Roy Orbison and Dusty Springfield coming to mind. Next up is Stranger In The House, a vintage Costello song dating back to his first album sessions but best known as a duet on a George Jones album. It’s classic Costello country and also classic My Darling Clementine fodder with the added bonus of some delicious keyboard swirlings from Nieve which recall those early Attractions days.

Digging deeper into Costello’s catalogue, My Darling Clementine come up with a Paul McCartney co-write, That Day Is Done. Here they cleave more to Costello’s idea of the song (which he performed with The Fairfield Four) as they delve into gospel soul on a horn-laden powerhouse version. The final song is another co-write, this time with Loretta Lynn, a song which was snuck away on a little known Costello album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came finds Dalgleish given a more prominent role than Lynn on the original while the song is a perfect vehicle for the duo’s trademark duetting.

The frustration here is that the disc has only four songs but it’s a tantalising tease for the remainder of the project. In the meantime, it’s available on vinyl and we should mention here the artwork and design of the sleeve which perfectly captures the mood. In addition, My Darling Clementine have been in the habit of copying the old EMI habit of classifying albums in a “file under” direction on the back sleeve. Here the copy reads, “File Under: Country (Costello Country). A nice touch.

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